SEMINOLE, Fla. — Alicia Smith, a 12-year-old sixth-grader who attends Seminole Middle School, said she has been harassed and bullied on several occasions since she began wearing a pro-Donald Trump facemask and baseball cap earlier this month.
What You Need To Know
- Alicia Smith wears the hat because she has a condition that causes hair to fall out
- She recorded one incident on her cellphone; the principal allegedly told her to delete it
- Pinellas County Schools has released a statement to Spectrum Bay News 9
- The mother says she is proud of her daughter for "sticking to her guns"
Alicia wears the hat because she has alopecia, a condition that causes hair to fall out.
“I was humiliated at school because I wear Trump apparel,” Alicia told members of the Pinellas County School Board at their meeting last week.
The first incident happened on March 8, which Alicia recorded on her cellphone. “They pulled down my neck gaiter and chewed my hair and humiliated me in front of the whole school,” she said at the school board meeting.
According to Alicia and her mother, Cynthia, the school principal allegedly told her that she needed to delete the video recording from her phone.
“His first response was 'You’re not supposed to record on school property, not ‘Are you OK?’ Not what happened,” says Cynthia Smith, still upset about the initial reaction among school administrators weeks later. “The only reason my daughter recorded that was that she was in fear for her safety.”
The Pinellas County School District did not respond to that specific allegation about Alicia being forced to delete the video.
This is the statement sent to Spectrum Bay News 9 by district spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas:
Pinellas County Schools takes this and all bullying situations seriously. The school has followed all disciplinary procedures with respect to the students engaging in this conduct. Additionally, both school-based and district staff have been working with the student and family to put a plan in place to ensure no future incidents of this nature occur.
While the incidents revolve around the intense feelings that former President Donald Trump still elicits, Cynthia Smith insists that the issue at hand is not about politics, but free speech rights.
“Everyone has the right to wear what they want to wear,” she says. “If somebody wants to wear another organization’s name, it’s your right, go ahead, I support that. I also support the right for my daughter to be able to wear what she wants to wear.”
According to a legal memo issued by school district attorneys to all Pinellas County instructors last August, students may exercise their right to free speech under the First Amendment while on school grounds. The examples listed in that letter that raised concerns, however, include masks with “BLM,” “Trump,” “Ridin’ with Biden,” a Christian Cross, a confederate flag, and Biblical versions with citations.
In a section of the letter about student’s free speech rights while on school grounds, the attorneys wrote that there were some exceptions, such as speech that “causes substantial disruption to the educational environment or interferes with the rights of others. This includes stopping speech before it occurs if the administrator can reasonably forecast a substantial disruption or interference with the rights of others.”
The memo goes on to say that “substantial disruption is more than just complaints or people feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed – it requires a disruption of the educational environment, such as school not occurring, students/staff staying away from school or a student walk-out.”
The policy for teachers and other school district employees is stricter; the memo says that public employees only enjoy free speech when they are speaking as a private citizen, and not as part of their job responsibilities.
Cynthia Smith says that she is still waiting for school district officials to put into writing exactly what Alicia is allowed to wear to school.
This isn’t the first time that such a situation has occurred in Florida schools in recent months. In Duval County, a high school student wearing a mask in support of Trump’s 2020 campaign was ejected for allegedly violating school policy in December. The district later said that the instructor misinterpreted its dress code.
Smith says that administrators with the district and Seminole Middle School are taking the incidents seriously now. She met on Friday for several hours with Bullying Prevention Specialists, who were spending the day following Alicia at school on Monday.
Cynthia Smith spoke to Spectrum Bay News 9 on Monday from Conservative Grounds, the Largo-based pro-Trump coffee shop that has become a political hangout for conservatives and Trump supporters from around the Bay area and the state since it opened last year. Several of her fellow “Patriots” appeared with her at the coffee shop to show their support.
She says she’s proud of her daughter for “sticking to her guns," adding that "she doesn’t want any other child to go through this.”
“Please help me change the way that bullies are handled and please help me out so that future victims don’t feel victimized over and over for someone else’s actions,” Alicia Smith told the school board last week.